One of the young people in the group frequently has a go-to every time we are sitting down to plan our day together: “Anywhere without books.”
This is a response to the fact that we as a group keep ending up at libraries, bookstores, or other places filled with books, and this particular young person is not as comfortable with reading as the others in the group.
Anywhere without books has become both a solid way to express her desires, a way to add humor to the situation, and a source of contention for the group.
Today someone wanted to go to the comic book store across this street from our meeting place, and the “anywhere without books” statement was brought up again. To that young person’s delight, the comic book store was closed, and we decided to move on to our other plans (art museum, school of art, and Goodwill) instead. On our walk towards Goodwill, we saw an art store and they decided to go in. We spent a lot of at that art store, enough time for the comic book store to open…
It was a tough sell, but they agreed to go back to the comic book store. We spread out in search of compelling comic books. After awhile, someone wanted to take off, but the young person who normally didn’t want to be in places with books for was engrossed in a new discovery: a comic book that she absolutely loved. It was difficult for the others to convince her to leave.
When we finally arrived at the art school that housed a museum of art, we saw that there was also a library there. They all consented to go in, but it didn’t take long until she was ready to go again, frustrated by once again being in a library, and asking if we could leave early to make it back to the comic book store. As it turned out, that library had the very same comic she had been reading back at the shop, and, upon finding it, she was engrossed again. When it came time to leave, to make it back to our meeting place for the end of the day, it was difficult to get everyone out of there, as they were all happy with what they found to read and didn’t want to stop.
Two things stood out to me in this series of reading and book-related events throughout the day. First, the amount of negotiation, compromise, frustration, explanation of feelings and desires, communication, and problem-solving we all had to engage in to figure out what to do with the tension between what different people wanted to do with their day, and when they wanted to leave a certain place.
Second, often the thing that sparks our love of reading, or desire to read or learn to read, is a very compelling story that we connect with and that we can’t put down. Forcing reading doesn’t work, and only serves to make reading a chore instead of a joy. Allowing young people to find what stories connect with them, what interests them when reading, is much more important. But in order to do that we have to let go of our agenda to get people to read at all costs, and just let things happen naturally.